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Biwa Pearls

Hi, I have noticed a trend on ebay and I want to clairify something
before I open my mouth to tell some people they are misleading the

I am under the understanding that Biwa Pearls are stick pearls that
were grown in Lake Biwa Japan.

These are not “Natural” Pearls, but seeded. Natural Pearls would be
very rare, and are only found occasionally in Rivers, Streams and
other places, but worth a small fortune.

Also as of now, there are no Biwa Pearls due to the Lake being

These people are selling pearls that look very much like your average
Chinese Pearl, and they are ovals and not what I would call Biwa
Style Pearls.

Thanks for any info


Biwa pearls are freshwater pearls that came in a variety of shapes
and yes they should actually come from that lake to deserve the name.
They are not natural pearls; they are tissue nucleated like most
freshwater pearls and yes, to the best of my knowledge, the lake is
not producing much, if any, material. Unfortunately for a long period
of time the name Biwa Pearl became almost a generic name for
freshwater pearls in general. However, from an ethical standpoint
today, only pearls that are actually grown in Lake Biwa should be
called Biwa pearls. You should absolutely open your mouth on this and
tell them that they are misleading the buyers.

Daniel R. Spirer, GG
Spirer Somes Jewelers
1794 Massachusetts Ave.
Cambridge, MA 02140

I too am puzzled about Biwa pearls. I understood that because of
pollution pearls were no longer being produced in lake Biwa. Yet
recently a woman approached my booth at a show and told me that two
or three years ago she had purchased some Biwa pearls. When I
expressed surprise, she informed me that she had “a certificate of
authenticity,” so she was sure these were genuine Biwa pearls. I did
not want to argue with her, or question the “certificate of
authenticity,” but I have wondered about this. I did ask if the
pearls were old—possibly dating to a time before the lake became
polluted, but she insisted that they were “new pearls.” "What are
these “certificates of authenticity,” and who issues them? If they
are from the jeweler, where does he get them??? Hate to be so
suspicious, but it all sounds doubtful to me. Would appreciate
about this. Thanks- Alma

Laura you hit one of the nails on the head! There is an actual FTC
ruling stating that a pearl must be from Lake Biwa to be called Biwa,
any style. The sticks were the one the consumer identified with the
most. Biwa is not producing at max that is for sure. They did try
and introduce one of the new resistant(disease) types of hybrid
mollusks but it is not at volumne level yet. Best one I saw was
natural even blue, black pearls from Lake Biwa!!! With a certificate
too!!! That seller is not aware that that is legally binding and can
get in a lot of trouble. Even better are the 6mm South Sea
Pearls!!! With 30 strands being offered, I don’t think
so… The industry is addressing these issues I would
expect to see some form of compliance with descriptions soon.

The Chinese orginated frreshwater implantation in the 13th century
with the buddha implant, so they have been well versed in this
technology. And have since made all styles of pearls. Over the past
9 years I have seen nothing but improvements. In fact we received in
our last shipment some 6mm that would rival any Akoyas, and 10mm that
were breathtaking.

Eva, G.G., Registered Master Valuer and adjunct of both at the
University of South Florida

Daniel . I think you are not right about freshwater pearls because the
method and procedure is the same not only for Biwa pearls. Cultured
pearls (sea) and freshwater are both pearls and tissue nucleated. If
you need more just ask.

Alma, that is something that I have seen lately, Certificates
authorized from people who are not even qualitfied to issue one!!!
The compaines who issue them do not realize that they are most
accountable for these, even though it is just a signature.


Dear Provenance Worshipers,

I am flabbergasted by your thinking that the origin of a baroque
freshwater pearl should be religiously pedigreed. What’s the
difference ? A rose is a rose is a rose.The essential consideration
is the quality of the gem. Where the gem originated is a mere
curiosity. If I do an appraisal it is of no concern where the stone
came from unless a sentimental customer wants an opinion to that end.
The matter of origin may be of interest to a collector, a scientist
or a historian, but, that is about as far as it should go…it is
academic !

Who ever heard of tracing diamonds to their origins ? De Beers
doesn’t give a damn inasmuch as it regularly dumps them all in the
same pot and merely differentiates on the basis of grade, shape,
color and size. This silliness of needing a certificate of origin is
an outgrowth of slick marketing wherein the seller is romancing the
customer. The fact is that gem rough circulates throughout the world
and the origin of the gems is typically associated with the
processor. In the recent past the bulk of the Sapphires coming out of
the orient have actually come from Sri Lanka. More recently much of
the material has been coming out of Kenya and Tanzania. Some of the
finest “Burma” Rubies have been coming from Kenya. Many of the "Thai"
Sapphires have actually been smuggled out of Cambodia. Yes, origin is
interesting and can help to romance the stone, but ultimately it is
the quality of the stone that is relevant. And yes, the origin can
usually be determined by microscopic examination of inclusions,
crystallization aberrations and chemical analysis. ( One of my prize
possessions is a copy of Prof. Gubelin’s classic book on gemstone
inclusions. The internal world of gemstones is a symphony of
beauty…unfortunately, the last time I saw a quote on the book
it was $150.00 ! )

Ron at Mills Gem, Los Osos, CA. ( I wish more Orchidians would tell
us where they reside…what’s to hide ? Oops, I forgot that origin
is unimportant !)

I found some info on Biwa Pearls, it states that in the last 7 years
there have been no pearls produced there. They are Nucleated, thus not
natural (meaning that they formed on their own without help), with
this in mind I would say that it is pretty obvious to me that these
pearls being sold are not Biwa Pearls from Biwa Lake. If anyone is
interested in doing so, please go to ebay and search for Biwa and let
me know what you think. There are a number of sellers calling these
Biwas…I do call the Stick pearls that I have Biwas, because when I
bought them I was told they were that, but now I realize that they are
most likely Chinese and just a Biwa Style Pearl. I won’t be doing that
anymore, I will call them Biwa Style…I just hate it when people
misrepresent things, especially when it is common sense that these are
not what they are being called.


Provenance—I agree with you Ron except when it is Turquoise. New
Mexico has a law which that any Turquoise sold as Natural may not be
enhanced in any way. So a certificate of authenticity is very
important. and must state where the Turquoise originated.
Bill from Long Island

Dear Vicky, I am under the impression that only freshwater pearls are
tissue nucleated and that “salts” are Mother-of-pearl bead nucleated.
I understand that the Japanese prefer mother-of-pearl from the
Tennessee River USA. Am I wrong on this?? All the material I have
read leads me to believe this is true. Suzanne

Ron, the difference is value. A ture Biwa pearl, even if it is in
the secondary market is worth more than a freshwater look a like.
Provenance can affect the value of a stone, piece of jewellery etc. in
certain cases. But, only when it is an attribute overall of the piece.
Hydrothermal is more expensive than flame fusion. Origin when it can
be detected is important.


Vicky, Technically cultured pearls refers to all man induced pearls.
However saltwater pearls are predominantly started with bead nuclei
carved out of freshwater mussel shells (mostly from the US). They are
not referred to as tissue nucleated. While some mantle tissue may be
used in the procedure the growth is formed around a piece of shell.
Freshwater pearls are induced only with tissue from another mollusk.
While all freshwater pearls, top date, are tissue nucleated, all
cultured pearls are not.

Daniel R. Spirer, GG
Spirer Somes Jewelers
1794 Massachusetts Ave.
Cambridge, MA 02140

Dear Provenance Worshipers,

I am flabbergasted by your thinking that the origin of a baroque
freshwater pearl should be religiously pedigreed.

God bless you dear Ron !!! I completely agree on what you mean.I think
that is rather difficult to find really good, natural and beautiful
gems yet. And when you get it (speaking especially about emeralds and
opals -I like them mostly), provenance doesn’t matter. Sometimes,
(it’s true) gem’s dealers enforce their prices - so high! - with
"Gospels" like :" It comes from…".But this is another question,
concerning market policy. It’s so interesting and amazing to look at
Gubelin’s.I haven’t get my own yet, but fortunately my gemology’s
teacher an friend has it. Best regards from

GUS- Trieste- Italy (I’m an original from!) Ciao

There is a difference, the difference is their value, Pearls from
Lake Biwa are much more expensive than Pearls from China that look
similar. Besides that it is downright unethical and purposely
misleading for someone to sell anything and say it came from one place
when it comes from another.

Besides that, as a seller on ebay myself, I find that it puts me at a
very distinct disavantage, since I try to be honest, there are
dishonest people stating that things are not what they are, plus
providing dishonest so called “Certificates of Authenticity!”

I find these tatic unacceptable, ebay doesn’t give a rat’s tail, I
have written them, but since their knowledge of these items is so poor
they can’t do anything about it (in other words because they make alot
of money off of these sellers, why make it honest?)

Just my opinion!


Ron, The issue with calling a freshwater pearl a Biwa pearl is not
that it is religiously pedigreed. It is that if you say that
something is a Biwa Pearl, then it must come from Lake Biwa. It is
like saying all rubies are coming from Burma. Or actually it is like
claiming that a ruby is from Burma and therefore should command a
higher price because it is, when in fact it comes from Thailand.
Actually I think most serious gemologists would rather not reference
sources (we won’t tell a customer a stone is from any source unless it
is of some interest, i.e. Maine tourmaline is more important to a New
Englander than one from Afghanistan, and unless we have some pretty
substantial backup that the stone is actually from a particular
source) as there are very few guarantees that the stones really come
from where they are claimed to be from. Personally, I am with you on
this one. If the stone is beautiful, sell it as a beautiful stone.
Period. However when someone makes a claim of origin in order to
increase the perceived value that is unethical. Daniel R. Spirer, GG
Spirer Somes Jewelers 1794 Massachusetts Ave. Cambridge, MA 02140

Laura, Yesterday I did something I rarely do, I attended a Commercial
Show. I am a strong supporter of local club shows, and these
commercial show promoters have effectively shut clubs out of the best
locations for shows. They have signed no competition contracts with
the venues we once used.

Now at this show there were many Pearl and Bead dealers with hank
after hank of Pearls. The prices were wildly different. There was no
way to visually identify quality, and me a June baby and Pearl lover
since 15 could not tell. In hanks there were prices of $200.00 per
strand, of course every table had signs “Show Special 50% Off.”

This is an open to the public show, and it seemed to me the buyer had
best beware. You are right about Biwa’s being misidentified. I did see
dealers I knew, and one a Native Chinese with Pearls. I spoke with him
and he shook his head. He will identify dyed and other enhanced
Pearls, he wholesales them to other dealers some of whom were selling
at that show. Several of them claim the various colors are natural.

The strong sellers were Baroque Pearls in the form of a Cross. Are
these created similarly to Buddha Pearls? There were just too many to
be accidents of nature. Teresa

Gus, in formal training in appraising one is taught to value
something as like kind. Provenance is important as an appraiser
because it affects value. As a merchant it affects price too.


Gus, I am enchanted by your web site. I hope others take the
opportunity and browse through it.

Wonderful designs, of course I am prejudiced, my father was from
Sorrento. Thank you, Teresa

All, Let me pose the question again. What is value? What makes
something valuable? In the past two weeks many of you have written
about the value of an item being greater because of the items origin,
purity, color, etc… Many have disagreed. So what is value?

Gerry Galarneau

Howdy Ron, The rational, ‘engineering’ part of me wants to agree with
you. HOWEVER since there is nothing rational about personal adornment
we must deal with ‘emotional’ factors particularly in marketing. As a
facetor I am continually amazed by the prices of -say- ‘natural’
(made by nature in the ground,then cleaned,preformed,polished,and
oiled -natural?-) emerald vs. synthetic (made by man in a laboratory).
Wouldn’t you apparaise these two stones differently? Wouldn’t an
appraisal consider the usually capricious whims of a dynamic
marketplace? Sure, a lot of customers get romanced into (or,on rare
occasions, out of) purchasing something based on provenance. They
also give into snobbery,fashion and passing fads. This is not
food,clothing,shelter or transportation. My work has to APPEAL to
someone. I may WISH it was out of consideration of my skill or just
an appreciation of the coplor/shape etc. But then the conversation
devolves into “where does it come from?,how do you know?.is it
treated or enhanced?”(YEAH - can’t you see I shaped and polished it?
DUH!) Of course I try to make them feel comfortable in their decision.
ANY customer should know if any item is fragile/toxic/impermanent etc.
Ultimately they may decide to buy from someone 'cause they’re
handicapped or tall or showing a lot of cleavage or have a European
accent. Go figure.

1 Lucky Texan